Teen makes a difference for grieving child

December 16, 2003|by KATE COLEMAN

Katrina Perry's father died when she was 10.

Bob Perry had been diagnosed with cancer two years earlier and fought hard, dying at the age of 47 after a brief time in the care of Hospice of the Panhandle.

Katrina cried at his funeral, but says she didn't cry again - didn't grieve - for four years.

"I felt I had to be my mom's strength," says Katrina, now 18.

She didn't express her sadness. She didn't deal with her loss. She developed health problems - acid reflux, mononucleosis. She had her gall bladder removed at age 16.

"I made myself sick," she says.

A bereavement volunteer from Hospice of the Panhandle stayed in contact with Karen Perry, Katrina's mother, for more than a year after her husband's death. The hospice approach includes care and support for a patient's family as well as the patient.


Family and friends are wonderful, but you get tired of talking to them about your grief, Karen Perry says. "They've heard it enough."

Five years after her husband's death, Karen Perry signed up for the organization's volunteer training program and has worked with family members of hospice patients. Katrina saw how hospice helped her mom, but wanted to provide more help for children. Katrina persuaded Hospice of the Panhandle to involve teens in grief support.

"Kids were being left out," she says.

In fall 2002, Katrina and several other teens received more than 20 hours of volunteer training. The training included a range of issues - death and dying, end-of-life tasks, communication, respite for the caregivers, spirituality, says Pam Shanklin, the organization's volunteer coordinator.

"I was just waiting," Katrina says, waiting for a child she could help.

She already had left for her freshman year at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., when the call came this fall. Shanklin and Hospice of the Panhandle staff, had a family in their care - a family with a child they thought Katrina could help.

Ten-year-old Devon McCauley's father died in August.

Nights are hard for the 10-year-old, says her mother, Shelly McCauley. "She misses her daddy."

McCauley says she was excited about the prospect of having someone to be there just for her daughter.

Katrina and Devon communicate by phone and e-mail. They met in October, when Katrina came home to Berkeley Springs, W.Va.

She met Devon and her mother at the mall.

"It's absolutely perfect," McCauley says. Devon loves that Katrina is in college and Devon can look up to her, but they also have a lot in common.

"She's helped me a lot," McCauley says.

Katrina uses her hospice training, but her personal experience also plays an important role.

She's there to listen to Devon.

When people would tell her, "I know how you feel," Katrina says she wanted to scream, "No, you don't."

Katrina expects to come home for her semester break tomorrow. She will take Devon Christmas shopping, they'll wrap presents and spend some time together. She's also been in e-mail contact with a local 17-year-old girl who's father recently died.

"I am just thrilled with the work she's doing," Shanklin says.

Katrina's experience is helping her to decide on her future. She is majoring in worship in college, and hopes also to major in psychology. She wants to focus on working with kids and grief.

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